California Dreaming’ by Penelope Bagieu – A Pictorial Biography of Mama Cass Elliot


‘California Dreaming’, a graphic novel by Penelope Bagieu  (2017) – 266 pages

‘California Dreamin’ combines two of my interests, biographies of rock or pop stars and graphic or cartoon novels that are not about superheroes, fantasy, or outer space.  Since ‘California Dreamin’ is essentially a true story it isn’t a graphic novel, but I don’t know what else to call it.  It covers the life of Ellen Cohen who became famous as Mama Cass Elliot up until the time the song California Dreamin’ was released.

She was born to a Jewish couple in Alexandria, Virginia in 1941. The family of four stayed barely afloat by the deli her father ran.  Even from an early age, her excessive weight was a problem for her.  Everybody knew she could sing wonderfully, but could she ever make it as a professional singer with her size?

At age 19 she left home for the burgeoning folk scene in New York City.  Her father who was always sickly died soon after she left home.  She kicked around with various folkie groups, but didn’t really start to make it until she met Dennis Doherty, and they started a group called the Mugwumps.  Both Cass Elliot and Dennis Doherty were phenomenal vocal talents.  Dennis was the great love of her life, but her love for him was unrequited although he was a good friend.

John Phillips asked Dennis Doherty to join him and his wife Michelle in his folk group the New Journeymen.  Dennis said he knew this great woman singer named Cass Elliot, but after Cass auditioned John turned her down because she was too fat.  Cass hung around with the group, and it was quite obvious that Cass’s voice made the group sound much better, but John still refused to have her in the group.  One time the record producer Lou Adler visited the group, and Cass happened to be singing with them their new song California Dreamin’.  Adler wanted to sign the four of them immediately to a contract, but John wanted him to sign only the three.  Adler said that without Cass there would be no contract.  So that is how the Mamas and Papas were born.

‘California Dreamin’ is a fun sometimes poignant graphic, not novel, but perhaps graphic biography?


Grade :   B  


4 responses to this post.

  1. I love the drawing style – it’s just perfect:)



  2. I just love the sound of Mama Cass’s voice.



    • Yes, the back-and-forth between the two powerful voices of Cass Elliot and Dennis Doherty is wonderful on such songs as ‘Monday, Monday’, ‘I Saw Her Again’, and of course ‘California Dreamin’.



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